BOJ ups ETF purchases in minor easing move

Exchange-traded funds are the hot investment of choice these days. So, hot that the Bank of Japan Friday announced plans to buy 300-billion-yen worth ($2.45 billion) on an annual basis to bolster its nearly three-year-old quantitative easing program.

The BOJ also said it would lengthen the maturity of the bonds it purchases to encourage investment in the economy.

Bank of Japan building facade in Tokyo

Bank of Japan building facade in Tokyo

Under the new program, the BOJ will purchase ETFs comprised of stocks issued by firms “proactively” investing in physical and human capital. This adds to the nearly 3-trillion-yen worth of ETFs a year, the BOJ is already buying.

The new program will start in April and begin with buying ETFs that track the JPX-Nikkei Index 400, which screens for factors including corporate governance and investor-focused management.

The new program is another attempt by the Bank of Japan to kickstart Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic growth program, known as Abenomics.

While the move was a surprise on the heels of the interest rate increase Wednesday by the US Federal Reserve Bank, no one seemed to care. The Nikkei 225 Stock Average, spiked into positive territory on the news, only to end the day down 1.9%. The US dollar also jumped to 123.59 yen on the news, before selling off and closing at 121.50 yen.

The BOJ said it would maintain its target for annual asset purchases at around ¥80 trillion ($650 billion), but would lengthen the average maturity of the Japanese government bonds it purchases to seven to 12 years, from seven to 10 years.

“These are all helpful measures, but they won’t make much difference in practice,” Capital Economics’ senior Japan Economist Marcel Thieliant, wrote in a note Friday. He said the BOJ was a bit more upbeat on Japan’s economy than at the bank’s previous meeting. But that the 300 billion yen in additional ETF purchases is “minuscule.”

Thieliant also said, “underlying inflation has been holding up. All this suggests that there is no pressing need to step up the of easing, and we expect policymakers to leave policy settings unchanged at the upcoming meeting in January.”

The move was unexpected because in recent weeks BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has said the central bank’s policies were working to move inflation higher.

Along with the Friday announcement, Kuroda told a news conference that the new move was merely an adjustment and not an expansion of the easing program. He the new steps would enable the bank to take bolder action in the future, if necessary, and insure its smooth operations.

“At the margin, today’s decision represents a very mild easing of policy,” the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group said in a note Friday. “The BOJ’s statement didn’t say much that would give the impression that a shift in policy stance was required. The BOJ likely took the opportunity with the 2016 buying plan to tweak things slightly. Although the BOJ did not alter the size of its asset purchase program, these slight tweaks (duration extension and extra ETFs) at the margin could be considered to be slightly stimulatory.”



Categories: Asia Unhedged, Japan

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